Disclaimer:- All Twilight characters belong to Stephanie Meyer, I am just borrowing them for the duration as always.
This one is all human and will be written mostly from Edward's POV, with a little from Jasper's where appropriate. Rated 'M' for adult scenes as usual and it's SLASH as noted in the summary.
I peered out of my bedroom window for the tenth time that evening, glimpsing the sleek silver Volvo which had been my main birthday gift from my parents. I had driven a used VW Bug since I got my licence, but Mom and Dad had been hinting for a while that the landmark of eighteen required a new car - new out of the showroom, not just new to me. They had chosen something solid, practical, almost impenetrable in the event of an accident, but also with an element of fun to it. I didn't tell them I'd already been practising 'J' turns on an old disused section of road parellel to the highway, when I went for my first drive in it that morning. Driving was the one thing that I had a real passion for - that and playing the piano. I did both well and with enthusiasm, which didn't really reflect in the rest of my life.
I sighed heavily and pushed my wire-rimmed glasses up my nose, then changed my mind and took them off before logging out of my MSN account. My best friend - my only friend - wasn't online and I knew he had been planning to go out that night with friends. Ben lived in New York and I'd stumbled upon him on a gay chat site a few months before; actually he had stumbled upon me. I had been a lurker, too shy to introduce myself directly to anyone and he had clicked on my name in the chat room one day and said 'hey'. Somehow we had managed to have a conversation, him typing paragraphs of chatter while I responded with brief phrases, not knowing what to say initially. Eventually he had become my confidante, the person I talked to almost every day, the one person in the world who knew I liked boys too.
Ben had tried to encourage me to talk to my parents about my preferences, but so far I had avoided the issue, even though from the way they treated me and their attitude to the world in general, I was at least reasonably sure they wouldn't have had a problem with the fact that I was never going to give them grandchildren. I just couldn't bring myself to say those words out loud; 'I'm gay'.
Ben was a few months younger than me and already had a boyfriend, one whom he raved about frequently and had admitted to having begun sleeping with. On this point, I was envious - not for the sex, but just to have somebody to spend time with; somebody who cared about me. I was terrible at making friends or getting to know anybody and always had been. I was a loner as a child, despite my parents' attempts to make me interact with other children by inviting them to parties at our house and taking me to visit theirs. I had always preferred to entertain myself rather than join in and things hadn't changed over the years. Hence my internet friend was the only person I really talked to. He couldn't see me and therefore I didn't have to feel awkward and stupid with him; I wouldn't blurt anything out that would embarrass me because I could think about it properly and edit it before I clicked 'send'.
I knew Mom and Dad worried about me being alone all the time and they had gone as far as to invite a colleague of Dad's and his family over to the house on a few occasions, hoping that I might become friendly with their seventeen-year-old daughter, Alice, but it had never happened. She was bright, bubbly, constantly chattering and laughing and said exactly what she thought, which was about as far from my own personality as one could get. Luckily she lost interest after a couple of visits and when her parents came over after that, she hadn't accompanied them.
I pushed away from my desk and headed downstairs, grabbing a light jacket from one of the hooks behind the rear door and pushing my feet into hiking boots.
"Edward, where are you going?" Mom called from the kitchen.
"Just for a walk."
"Don't be too long, honey, dinner will be on the table in about thirty minutes."
"Ok!" I called back and let myself out. I knew she and Dad would have preferred to throw a party for me, but I had begged them not to, the thought of a bunch of kids from school that I barely knew descending on me appealing even less than another visit from Alice Brandon. Instead Mom had agreed to cook me one of my favourite meals and I would eat with my parents. It was unusually late for dinner, almost nine o'clock already, but Dad had been at the hospital all day and I'd wanted to wait for him.
I walked away from the house along a path I had followed many times. It led to a clearing close to the river and a fallen tree to one side afforded a decent seat. I sat on it now and folded my arms, staring around me at the shadows creeping closer with the onset of dusk, the half-moon shining out of an unusually cloudless sky. I tilted my head back and looked up at the myriad stars pricking the darkening canopy and sat that way until my neck began to ache. Space fascinated me and I had a stack of books on the universe and all of those stars so far away.
Just as I lowered my head, rubbing the back of my neck, a shooting star appeared for two or three brief seconds before the small glow vanished. It was rare to see them here, only a tiny portion of sky visible from the clearing and more often than not, cloud cover blocking the view. It was just a small meteor, burning up as it passed into Earth's atmosphere, but I suppose there was a little bit of a romantic in me that said if I wished on it, I would get what I wanted some day; or maybe it was just the habit of doing something that I'd done since I was a child.
"I wish...I would find a boy to love me," I whispered into the darkness.
The moment was gone almost immediately. I got to my feet and tugged a hand through my uncontrollable mop of bronze hair, then shook my head and shoved my hands into my pockets.
"Jerk," I muttered. I knew it was just a fairy story and besides - how would I ever find anybody to love me when I spent my life in my room avoiding people? Even if I did make an effort to go out, who was going to want me? I was so pale I'd been called a vampire by some of the kids in highschool and I looked like a mad scientist with my hair sticking out as if I'd been electrocuted and my wire-framed glasses. I only needed them for reading and driving, but I wore them all the time when I wasn't home, as if they were a shield I could hide behind; a shield that disguised the one thing I did like about myself - my eyes which varied between dark moss green and emerald, depending on my mood.
I headed slowly back to the house and joined my parents for dinner, after which I was given the remainder of my birthday gifts. I'd received the car that morning, as there was no way of hiding it when it arrived on the back of a trailer right beneath my window. The other items comprised piano music, some CDs, a new book on the solar system, clothes and lastly, a vacation starting in just five days' time. My mouth fell open as I looked at the documentation and then my parents' eager faces. They had planned a trip for the three of us which rendered me speechless.
The vacation was for three weeks on a horse ranch halfway between two towns so small they barely showed up on the map, around one hundred and fifty miles from Dallas, Texas. My parents were both keen horse-riders and Mom had owned horses up until I was conceived, when lack of time no longer allowed her to enjoy them as much as she would have liked. I had ridden a couple of times as a kid, on a horse belonging to one of Dad's friends whom we had visited, and I had been terrified when I looked down at the ground from my position in the saddle. I may as well have been sitting on the house roof. Now they had arranged to take me to a place called the Whitlock Stone Ranch in the middle of nowhere, to ride horses in blistering heat amongst a bunch of cowboys whom I would have nothing in common with, a prospect which horrified me. I actually couldn't think of a worse way to spend three weeks of my life, but Mom and Dad looked so excited about it that I fixed a smile to my face as I looked up, hating to hurt their feelings. At that moment I wondered if they really knew me at all.
"Wow...it looks...awesome," I said, feining enthusiasm.
"I know it's not your usual thing, Edward, but you were just a child last time you rode," Mom said. "We thought it would be good for you to get some fresh air and sun and have some fun in the outdoors. You can learn to ride properly and there are bound to be other young people there too..."
"You know how we worry about you, spending all your time on the computer," added Dad. "You'll be going to college in just a few months; it's better that you get more used to being around other people before then."
"Yes, I suppose that makes sense," I nodded. Mom gave me the folder of literature to read in my room after dinner and the more I read, the less I liked the idea. The ranch was quite literally isolated from civilisation, the nearest towns of Dublin and Comanche being miles away and the closest neighbour was a similar ranch six miles distant, not that I would have taken advantage of the fact if there had been a nearby town.
Our vacation destination was owned by Mick and Marcie Whitlock, who employed a number of 'ranch hands' to care for the horses and supervise the more experienced riders or teach those who weren't comfortable in the saddle. I would be one of those and I just knew that whichever poor cowboy I ended up with, would be sick of me by the end of day one. In addition, everyone taking a vacation on the ranch would eat their meals in the main ranch house with the family and each Friday a large barn became an entertainment venue with music and dancing. I shuddered at the thought of myself sitting in a corner trying to be inconspicuous, while Mom and Dad would no doubt be prancing around in jeans and plaid shirts, easily fitting in as they did everywhere.
It was the next evening before I got to talk to Ben and the first ten minutes of the conversation were about his night out with his boyfriend and two girls they were friends with. They had gone to the movies, gotten pizza and then Ben went back to Eric's place and had sex. I sighed as I typed out a response, remembering my birthday wish and knowing I wouldn't be catching up with Ben any time soon.
'So what did you do for your birthday?' he typed next.
'It was your eighteenth!' He added a dozen exclamation marks to this statement and I pushed my glasses up my nose and chewed my lip. I could have lied and said I'd had a party, but I didn't like making things up, even to someone who was unlikely to ever meet me.
'I had dinner with my parents. Got some great gifts - new car!' I boasted. At least this was one thing that he was envious of. He and his parents and sister lived in an apartment, travelled to work and school on the subway and had no place to keep a car so he hadn't even learned to drive yet.
'You already have a car!'
'This one's brand new; spent yesterday morning burning rubber,' I typed.
'Awesome! You know I'm green right now. Did you get anything else? Socks? Underwear? Horrible handmade sweater?'
'Jerk. Music and stuff. And a vacation.'
'Hope it's somewhere good. Dad's hours were cut at work so we're not getting one this year.'
'Horse ranch in Texas,' I responded and added a smiley with a sad face.
'Why the hell would they take you to a horse ranch? You don't ride,' Ben stated.
'I know that; you know that. Mom and Dad want me to get in the fresh air and meet people.'
'I'm not so sure taking you to meet a bunch of rednecks is such a hot idea. They're still pretty anti-gay out there in the wilds.'
'I'm hardly likely to show up in a rainbow shirt and announce it at dinner,' I retorted.
'Damn, Edward, you need to tell your folks and try making some friends in your town. If your Dad knew he'd probably invite Alice's brother for dinner.'
'She doesn't have one.'
'I know that, you take everything too literally. Who knows? Maybe there'll be a hot gay cowboy just waiting to sweep you off your feet onto his horse and ravish you in the hay loft. That'll be a riding lesson you'll never forget.' He added an emoticon rolling on its side laughing and I rolled my eyes in response, my cheeks burning.
'Sure, Ben, the only riding I'll be doing is on the oldest, slowest horse they have.'
The conversation continued for a while and I did my best not to keep on bemoaning the prospect of the vacation. I was certain he must get tired of my introverted nature and he did finish by telling me I ought to embrace the trip and try to get as much out of it as I could, rather than tell myself I was going to hate it before I even got there. I supposed he was right, but I wasn't convinced that I would surprise myself by enjoying it.
The next few days passed much too quickly for my liking and suddenly I was checking over my suitcase and hand luggage one last time to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything important, like my iPad. At least I could still talk to Ben while I was in Texas, unless of course the ranch was isolated from Wi-Fi as well as everything else, which could quite possibly be the case.
"Do they have Wi-Fi?" I asked Mom as she appeared in my doorway.
"Now, Edward, you're not taking that with you, are you?" she protested. "You won't have time to be on the internet."
"I want to load my photos onto it," I said.
"Alright, but I don't want you letting it monopolise the vacation."
"I won't," I said in relief, packing both iPad and iPhone. At least I would be able to use them on the long journey, if nothing else.
We set off at dawn the next morning, Dad driving to Sea-Tac where we left the car in a long-term parking lot. Our flight was at ten, landing in Dallas at just after three o'clock local time. Mom and I collected the baggage while Dad went ahead to rent a car and waited for us outside the terminal. As soon as we stepped through the doors into the open, I was hit by a blast of hot air that felt as if I'd walked in front of a stove. I took a breath that turned my mouth dry and the atmosphere felt dense and stuffy. Immediately I began to sweat, the t-shirt I wore beneath my open shirt becoming damp. I removed my glasses and wiped my face with my sleeve, wondering how on earth I would survive three weeks in this heat.
We walked away from the shade of the building and at once felt the full force of the sun. I knew I would burn within minutes and I tucked my head down as I helped Dad stow the cases in the trunk of the car, then dived into the back seat. Mercifully the car had aircon and I heaved a sigh of relief as we pulled away, Mom in the passenger seat poring over the map that had been provided by the rental office.
"You know, I can't see Dublin on here, honey," she was saying and I groaned inwardly.
"Just get me on Route 377," Dad answered. "That'll take us to a town called Stephenville and then we switch, but it should be signed from there."
I gazed about me as we negotiated a series of intersections, overpasses and stretches of four-lane highways and then eventually we were leaving the suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth behind and heading out into no mans land. The further we travelled, the less green I saw, the intense heat maintaining a brown, dusty scrub-land in all directions.
"Ninety-seven degrees out there," commented Dad cheerfully, glancing at one of the displays on the dash in front of him. "Hope you packed plenty of sun cream, Esme!"
"Several bottles. You better keep your arms covered and wear a hat, Edward."
"Mmm." As much as I had tried to tell myself to make the most of the trip, now I could only imagine myself hiding in my room out of necessity, suffering from a nasty case of sunburn. I took out my iPad and opened up a book I had downloaded, deciding to read for a while to pass the time.
Eventually we passed through the small town of Stephenville and picked up another highway that took us to Dublin. The journey seemed endless, the scenery never changing except for the occasional appearance of a few trees and buildings in the distance, which Mom noted from the map were other ranches.
"The ranches are on the map, but Dublin's too small to be shown?" I queried.
"No, it's here, Edward, I just couldn't find it earlier. We're almost there," Mom said.
"Almost at the ranch?"
"No, almost at Dublin. Then it's about...twenty miles or so."
I put the iPad away and sat back in my seat again with a sigh. My legs were stiff with sitting still for so long and between us, we had gotten through all of the snacks and bottles of water we had brought. I was hungry, thirsty, tired and slightly alarmed about the prospect of being thrust upon a crowd of strangers immediately after arriving. Mom had been advised by the ranch owners that our arrival time would fit in nicely with supper being served for all of the guests in the main house.
The ranch finally came into sight just after six o'clock. We had turned off the highway and travelled perhaps a mile along a dirt track, passing through one of those gateways you see in movies, with a sign suspended across the top announcing the 'Whitlock Stone Ranch'. Ahead were a cluster of buildings of different shapes and sizes - a large single storey house, several barns and small log cabins, all surrounded by paddocks in which a good number of horses could be seen. Dad drove right up into the yard and parked beside a rusty old truck, telling Mom and me to wait in the car while he announced our arrival and found out where our accommodation was.
I stared out of the windows, noticing a couple of young guys working, transporting wheel barrows of dirty straw out of one of the barns. The pair were clad in jeans, shirts and cowboy hats, just like I imagined and a moment later, four riders entered the yard from another direction, jumping down from their saddles, one of the four taking charge of all the horses while the other three headed off towards the log cabins.
Dad returned and slid back into the driver's seat, backed the car up and drove around to the other side of the house where a dozen vehicles sat in a row. He positioned our car at the end of the line and cut the engine again.
"Right, here we are. Let's go in and introduce ourselves properly, then we should have time to freshen up and start unpacking before dinner."
I climbed out of the car and was immediately hit by the heat again, although I was relieved that I could feel a breeze and the air seemed less thick than it had in the city. I followed Mom and Dad around to the front of the house again and up onto the porch, where we were met by a woman who looked maybe ten years older than Mom. She introduced herself as Marcie Whitlock and invited us inside, declining to shake hands as she wiped hers on the legs of her jeans.
"In the middle of making supper," she said. "So you're Carlisle, Esme and Edward? Is that right?"
"Yes, it's nice to meet you," Mom replied.
"Mick will be here in a second to show you where your cabin is. We'll be eating in less than an hour, so you'll have time to wash up if you want to, after so long travelling."
Dad began telling her about our journey while I looked about me, noting an enormous kitchen through an open doorway, a long wooden table surrounded by many chairs at one end of the room. The delicious smell of some kind of meat cooking reached my nostrils, reminding me that I was starving and I realised hunger was going to outweigh my shyness of being forced to sit amidst a crowd of people I'd never met.
"Here they are!" Marcie looked past us as the door opened again and we moved aside as two men entered, the larger, heavier one removing his hat and offering his hand to Dad to shake.
"Thank you; I'm Carlisle Cullen and this is my wife, Esme, and our son, Edward."
"Jasper, c'mere." Mick waved a hand and the younger man stepped forward. My eyes were on the floor as usual and I didn't see anything except for his feet at first. "This is my boy, Jasper; he's eighteen," Mick continued.
"Good to meet y'all." His drawl was pleasant with a deep tone to it, I noticed.
"Hello, Jasper," Mom said and then nudged me with her elbow. I raised my eyes slowly, from the scuffed brown cowboy boots I had been staring at, to tight faded jeans, a grey t-shirt with some kind of design on the front that had virtually disappeared with repeated washings and tanned, well-toned arms.
"Hey," he said as my gaze finally reached the bottom half of his face which sported a broad grin and even white teeth, his chin and jaw dusted with dark stubble. Finally I met his eyes; grey-green framed by long lashes. His hair was dark brown, collar length, bangs falling untidily over his forehead, mussed from the hastily removed Stetson he held in his hand. He was the most beautiful boy I'd ever seen in my life.